Train travel in India: pros and cons of traveling with the Indian Railway

Traveling by the Indian railway in India is an experience you will not easily forget about. It’s the fourth largest train network in the world and it covers over 120000 km of rails with long or short distance trains.

Getting to know the Indian railway system can be a challenge. So, here are some best practices and pros and cons of train travel in India.

Indian railroad station Ajmer
ABOVE: Ajmer railway station sees many visitors traveling to Pushkar in Rajasthan because Pushkar itself doesn’t have a railway station and can only be reached by taxi, tuk tuk or bus.

Pros of travel with the Indian railway in India

When it comes to train travel in India there are many benefits you have compared to other ways of transportation. Here are a few pros about travel with the Indian railway.

1. It’s an affordable way of getting around

When you travel across India, you’ll now and then have to travel long distances because it’s such a large country. The fastest option often is to travel by airplane, but this will take you right to your destination without allowing you to see a bit of the scenery on the way. Plus, it will cost you more. The Indian railway is a cheaper option (even second and first class are affordable) and you’ll get a real feeling of how Indians travel around in India.

train station Indian railroad: unreserved class wagon
ABOVE: An open door of an unreserved class train wagon.

2. There are many options when it comes to price classes and comfort

The Indian train wagons are segmented into groups of wagon classes and each class has its own set of comfort options and prices.
Tip: Always book at least a few days up front for AC classes.

Here are a couple of examples of Indian train classes:

  1. First class with air conditioning: Somewhat the same as second class AC, with 4 bunk beds and a curtain to close to the compartment. In some cases only 2-bed bunk rooms. This is the most expensive option.
  2. Second class with air conditioning: 4-bed bunks and a curtain to close off the compartment. More affordable and probably the best price/quality option you can get.
  3. Third class with air conditioning: Same as second class AC but with 6-bed bunks per compartment. Often no curtains.
  4. Sleeper class: No airconditioning, wagon with open windows and fans. 6 beds per compartment.
  5. Unreserved class: seat only class. The cheapest option. No option of making a reservation. Ok for short distances.
Indian railway second class wagon
ABOVE: A second class unreserved wagon of the Indian railway in Ajmer station, India.

3. You can cover long distances without being to tired.

When you book a sleeper or third, second or first AC class train seat for an overnight train ride, you’ll be able to get some sleep while the train of the Indian railway gets you to your destination.

This will allow you to arrive at your destination well rested and you don’t necessarily have to book your accommodation for that night as you’ll already have slept on the train. This can be very useful.

A red Indian train wagon in Ajmer railway station
ABOVE: A red Indian railway wagon in Ajmer.

Cons of train travel with the Indian Railway

When it comes to train travel in India there are many benefits you have compared to other ways of transportation. Here are a few pros about travel with the Indian railway.

1. Delayed trains…

One of the biggest nuisances when it comes to traveling by train in India is the delayed trains. We are talking about India here, so keep into account that a train can be delayed for hours in a worst-case scenario. Keep in mind that often the Indian railway is sharp on time and if a train is delayed, you will always be able to get to your destination if you have the patience for it.

A sleeper class wagon
ABOVE: A sleeper class wagon of the Indian railway.

2. Comfort can be an issue in the sleeper or unreserved class

Just like with taking a bus, don’t expect huge amounts of comfort when you’ll have to travel long distances by an Indian railway train. The beds are ok in first, second or third class AC, but if you want some comfort you better choose for second class AC or third class AC.

The sleeper or unreserved class can be very crowded and full of people. It all depends on your standards and how much people you can handle being around you.

Do’s on the Indian trains

On the train in India, there are certain guidelines you need to follow. So things are ethically ok, and some things just aren’t. Here are a few tips about what things you should do when traveling with the Indian railway.

1. Hygiene, tidiness and cleanliness

  • Make sure you use the bed linen you will get on the train to make your bed as comfortable as possible for a long journey.
  • Always make sure you bring some soap or antibacterial wash gel to wash your hands after you go to the restroom and before you eat.
  • Clean up the train compartment. There are plenty of bins around for rubbish and empty water bottles.
  • Make sure you don’t let your stuff swinging around. Keep your most important stuff in your backpack and use the backpack as a pillow when you sleep for safety reasons.
Indian railways train open door
ABOVE: No better feeling than when you watch the landscape pass by as you sit in an open Indian train door opening.

2. Walk around, be friendly to others and enjoy the view outside of the train

For long journeys, you’ll be glad to stretch your legs now and then and as the trains in India are often long as in numbers of wagons, you can go for quite a nice walk.

Often, just a stroll through a couple of wagons will be enough. You’ll meet some people on the way and if you pass an outside door of the train, don’t hesitate to sit down for a while and gaze at the landscape that passes by. It’s a wonderful thing to do to kill the time when you’re traveling by Indian train.

Indian railway train door with open landscape
ABOVE: Another Indian railway train door with an open landscape.

3. Order food and drinks whenever you can

Most trains in India have one or more kitchen wagons and staff walking around in the train selling chai, coffee or snacks. Often also complete breakfast, lunch and diner packages.

Whenever you can hear someone calling out for chai or anything in the Indian train, get yourself ready and buy yourself a cheap and nice treat. The fact that you can get food and drinks on a train in India, is sure worth the experience. You’ll like it.

Food train Indian railways
ABOVE: A proper dinner in the train on my way to Delhi.

Don’t do’s on the Indian trains

On the train in India, there are also certain things you should not be doing. Here are a few tips about what’s considered inappropriate on an Indian Railway train.

1. Stay formal and always be dressed

  • Make sure you are always dressed in concealing clothing on an Indian Railway train. Also when you are in your bed asleep.
  • Be friendly and always remain formal in conversations with other people.
The sun that shines through an Indian train window
ABOVE: The sun that shines through an 2 AC Indian railway window

2. Don’t wake up people in the middle of the night

Don’t turn on the light of the compartment in the middle of the night and let your fellow travel companions sleep. Most people in the train will have a long day before them, so they will need their sleep and best is to respect that.

The outside on an 2 AC Indian train wagon
ABOVE: The outside on an 2 AC Indian railway wagon

Famous train routes by the Indian railway

I want to close this article with a couple of examples of popular and special train routes in India. The Indian railway covers quite a lot of surface, but some train rides can be considered more special as other ones. Here are a few examples of Indian railway routes in India that can be considered as recommended.

1. The Konkan Railway (from Mumbai to Goa and Kerala) with the Mandovi Express

Connecting Mumbai and Goa and getting on south to Kerala, the Konkan Indian Railway is a 450-mile bend around the Indian west coast, just next to the Arabian Sea. The Konkan railway route crosses thousands of bridges and India’s highest viaduct.

The Mandovi Express train takes just over eleven hours to reach the city of Madgaon in Goa, which used to be an old Portuguese settlement (see Old Goa). The landscape you’ll see passing by in the train is a beauty, especially in the monsoon.

Jaisalmer fort desert view
The Thar desert Indian Railway train will bring you to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer

2. A Thar desert train

The Indian railway connection from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer links two of Rajasthan’s popular destinations. Both cities feature might forts and vibrant winding desert streets. The train ride will take you about six hours.

3. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A most famous train ride in India goes from Kalka to Shimla, but there are also two other great Indian hill-station routes that are just as interesting:

  • To Ooty (Udhagamandalam) in the South
  • To Darjeeling in the North

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built to rescue the Victorians from the summer heat. The train covers 55 miles in 7 hours and gets you through village streets and lush panoramic views.

How to book your Indian railway train tickets

To secure your seat in higher class Indian railway trains, it’s smart to buy your tickets in advance, especially for long distance night trains in high season for popular destinations.

Tickets go on sale 120 days in advance and can sell out quickly. You can either go to a train station in India and book your tickets there a couple of days in advance or you can go to www.seat61.com or www.indiarail.co.uk. Both sites have expert knowledge of Indian rail travel.

Like this travel guide about the Indian Railway in India? Pin it!

1 thought on “Train travel in India: pros and cons of traveling with the Indian Railway

  1. This sounds such a unique experience and I would love to try it out. I want to visit India more and more, as I read and learn about this country. Cheers for the Article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.